Sandra Bland's Family Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Photo: Courtesy of Facebook.
Update: The family of Sandra Bland has settled a federal wrongful death lawsuit for $1.9 million, along with a series of promised changes to law enforcement procedures in Waller County, TX, CNN reported.

Bland died last summer in police custody after a routine traffic stop. Her death sparked the hashtag #SayHerName, asking people to remember the women of color who have died at the hands of the police.

Some of the changes in jail procedures include providing an on-call nurse around the clock, and using electronic sensors for cell checks, CNN reported.

“After talking to moms across the country, this is what we’ve been looking for,” Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother, told BuzzFeed News. “This is monumental. This is not just about me.”
Update: July 21, 2015: Texas law enforcement and the FBI are working to investigate the death of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman who was arrested after a traffic stop, and who was found dead in a jail cell three days later, The Associated Press reported. At a press conference, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis also took care to suggest that Bland somehow deserved the rough treatment she received because she was not cooperative enough.

Mathis also said that it is "too soon" to know how Bland died, and that her death is being investigated as thoroughly as if it were a homicide. Officials have said that Bland hanged herself with a plastic bag in her jail cell, but family members and friends have disputed this publicly and have asked the Justice Department to conduct its own investigation.

Authorities were expected to release video from the police dash camera on Tuesday, and according to the Associated Press, Mathis said that Bland was "very combative," and he backed up the accounts of police that she tried to assault an officer. "It was not a model traffic stop," he continued, "and it was not a model person that was stopped on a traffic stop. I think the public can make its own determinations as to the behaviors that are seen in the video."

Cell phone video shot by a bystander shows an officer restraining Bland as she shouts, "You just slammed my head into the ground." The dash-cam video does not show how Bland got from her car onto the ground.

Activists, civil-rights leaders, and members of the clergy have all called for greater scrutiny of this case. Bland wasn't the only woman to die while in police custody last week; 18-year-old Kindra Chapman allegedly hanged herself on July 14 in a Homewood, AL, jail cell shortly after being arrested for robbery.

This story was originally published on July 16, 2015.

After a year of highly publicized deaths at the hands of law-enforcement officers, a young woman has died in police custody. Now, her family and friends hope that social media will help them answer questions about how a traffic stop ended so tragically. Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old who had just moved to Texas to begin a new job, was found unresponsive in a prison cell on Monday, and according to the Waller County sheriff’s office, she hanged herself.

This explanation hasn't been enough for Bland’s loved ones. According to news website Click 2 Houston, friends gathered at the jail where she died and at the sheriff’s office on July 15 to demand more information. According to court documents, Bland was pulled over by police on July 10 for failing to signal and was arrested for allegedly assaulting an officer during the traffic stop. On Monday morning, a corrections officer found her dead in her cell; her cause of death was listed as self-inflicted asphyxiation.

However, according to one online petition, there are disturbing gaps in the official story. The petition, which already has more than 3,000 signatures, refers to a video of Bland’s arrest that shows one officer violently restraining her. On the video, Bland can clearly be heard shouting, "You slammed me into the ground” and “I can’t even hear.” The petition calls on the Department of Justice to perform an independent autopsy.

People who knew Bland, who was due to start a new job at her college alma mater, Prairie View A&M, this week, say that she would never have taken her own life. Bland was involved in activism and spoke out about racial issues in videos on her Facebook page. Racial-justice and civil-rights advocates have joined the calls for more information; #SandraBland, #WhatHappenedToSandraBland, and #JusticeForSandraBland have become ubiquitous on Twitter and Instagram.

Online campaigns can make a difference: Twitter played a vital role in raising awareness about the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died of a broken neck in police custody. Activists have also used the hashtag #SayHerName to highlight the deaths of Black women during police encounters when news outlets paid less attention to those cases than of Black men.
Photo: Courtesy of Facebook.
Photo: Courtesy of Facebook.

Only three months ago, a traffic stop turned violent when North Charleston, SC, police officer Michael Slager was captured on video fatally shooting Walter Scott, an African-American man, in the back as he ran away from the officer. Slager has been charged with murder — but only after the video emerged, which disproved the version of events he had filed with his department.

Bland’s friends planned another rally for July 17 in front of the Waller County sheriff’s office. Friday is also the one-year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner, the 43-year-old Staten Island, NY, man killed by police, whose last words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

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